Torture and other practices

Torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment

Torture: a few notions

According to the UN Convention against torture, the term ‘torture’ refers to any act by which “severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity”.

Recourse to torture and inhuman and degrading treatment violates the very essence of human dignity. It is one of the most serious human rights violations. Prohibition of torture is therefore an absolute human right. This means that there cannot be any exception to this prohibition, irrespective of circumstance such as, for example, a state of war.

International and regional instruments

The prohibition of this practice is addressed by:

  • The 1984 UN Convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;
  • The Optional Protocol to the 2002 Convention on Torture which establishes a control mechanism on places of liberty deprivation in the states party;
  • The International Covenant on Civil and Political rights (article 7);
  • The Convention on the Rights of the Child (article 37a);
  • The Geneva Conventions relating to the protection of victims of war;
  • The Council of Europe Convention for the Prevention of Torture or Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (ratified by Belgium on 23 July 1991).

Belgian and European Union initiatives

Belgium strongly condemns the use of torture and mistreatment in third countries. It also fights for respect for this principle at international forum level. This issue is of primary importance to the European Union:

  • The Member States of the European Union traditionally co-sponsor the resolution on torture adopted at the UN General Assembly.
  • These states also co-sponsor the Human Rights Council resolution on torture, which notably established the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on torture.
  • The European Instrument for Democracy and Human rights finances projects in this field for the prevention of torture, the social reinsertion of torture victims and the promotion of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on Torture.

European Union Guidelines

The guidelines are documents adopted by the EU to describe the different ways in which to implement EU human rights priorities in its relations with third countries. Guidelines on torture and cruel, inhuman and other degrading treatment and punishment were adopted by the EU in 2001.

Their aims include:

  • drawing up periodical reports on the situation in third countries;
  • promoting the ratification of international instruments against torture;
  • promoting the role of different international control mechanisms and cooperation with their advocates such as  the Special Rapporteur and the UN Committee against Torture;
  • promoting the adoption of control mechanisms and methods for national judicial recourse pertaining to detention centres;
  • making representations or declarations to denounce proven cases of torture or positive developments in this area in third countries;
  • addressing this issue with contacts in third countries and in international forums;
  • collaborating with civil society through meetings and training courses on the subject.

Council of Europe initiatives

The Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Other Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment has set up a Committee against Torture. This body is made up of independent experts and has jurisdiction to visit all places of deprivation of liberty, in an aim to verify the absence of torture or mistreatment. Following inspections, the Committee writes reports making recommendations to governments. Between 1991 and 2008, the Committee has visited Belgium four times.

UN Committee against Torture 

Guidelines on torture

Council of Europe Committee for the Prevention of Torture